The 2020 Must-do Experience: Illusions of the Passed – Ghosts of Valentine’s

When’s the last time you went to a séance? We’re talking a real tempt-the-spirits-to-move-chairs Victorian-style séance? Well, grab your incense and (white-colored) candles, it’s time for the Illusions of the Passed – Ghosts of Valentines at the Winchester Mystery House.

Led by Aiden Sinclair, the ghostly ceremony beckons those residing in Sarah Winchester’s Victorian manse to come forth and be heard and seen. Chances are high that those in attendance will leave changed. With that promise, how could a séance not be on your bucket list?

Aiden calls himself a master magician and apparitionist. We’ll simply call him a brave soul whose home addresses are a bit … peculiar?  

For five years he lived at 333 E Wonderview Ave in Estes Park, Colorado. Currently, he’s at 1126 Queens Hwy in Long Beach, California.

The first address is that of the Stanley Hotel. Yes, the one of “redrum” fame. For five years, Aiden lived “The Shining.” His current home is on board the elegant King-Edward-the-Eighth-inspected, art deco-designed “Queen Mary.” The transatlantic ocean liner sailed her maiden voyage in 1936, then spent World War II transporting troops to their victories or to their … deaths.

You’d expect Aiden to be dark given his constant “contact” with the unseen. But if anything, it’s lifted his, um, spirits. It’s changed his magic techniques and the way he thinks about the past. “A haunting,” he says, “isn’t necessarily bad. A ghost can be created by something good.”

His reasoning: “If you are going to spend your eternity somewhere, where would that be? Would you go to a place that recalls the worst moments of your life or where you were most happy?”

We recently asked Aiden more about his upcoming performances and about finding the happiness behind hauntings and the truth behind Victorian séances.

Winchester Mystery House: Why Victorian séances?

Aiden Sinclair: Going to séances happened largely throughout the 1800s [the Victorian age]. They surged in popularity whenever there was a significant loss of life, like in America after the Civil War. After that came the loss from the “Titanic,” which glides into World War I, only to fall out of favor. Séances then came back following World War II. There’s a thirst for knowing what goes on on the other side, particularly when you’ve lost someone. People want a chance to say good-bye. It’s cathartic.

People associate séances with occult and dark magic. But until 1936 it was a major component of Christian Spiritualism. FDR held a séance in the White House. In 1920, Norman Rockwell painted a Ouija Board on the cover of “The Saturday Evening Post.”  

A lot of the belief in Spiritualism was eroded by Houdini who set out to show the tricks behind the magic.

WMH: You are a master magician, and appeared on “Penn & Teller Fool Us” and “America’s Got Talent.” So is this a magic show or a séance?

AS: We use modern conjuring with séance techniques of the Victorian era. It’s different than a magic performance. When people go to Las Vegas to see David Copperfield levitate, they know they are buying into a performance. They don’t leave feeling it was real. But when a woman was levitated during a Victorian séance, it was real to those people. It had a profound impact. That’s what our show wants to do, and that’s what I believe magic should be: an experience of the supernatural.

Aiden Sinclair

Aiden Sinclair Performing Illusions of the Passed: Ghosts of Valentine’s at the Winchester Mystery House

WMH: What kind of props are part of a Victorian séance?

AS: Our performances are story driven. Before hand, we talk to the locations’ historian or archivist, we do the docent tours, and we do our own research. The show is designed around this history, and each performance is specifically designed around the audience. Because our shows are organic, reacting to the audience, the props change. I don’t use everything I bring to the stage. Because of that, I’d rather not say any one thing in particular. But many of our pieces are on-loan from private collections.

WMH: What props were historically used at a séance?

AS: Pendulums, tarots, mediums, crystal balls, white candles …   

WMH: Do you believe? Have you had any experiences that are unexplainable?

AS: We’ve had things move that should not have, and other unexplainable happenings … As a magician, I know what can be created and what can be perceived. Therefore, when things would happen, I look for logical explanations. The Stanley doors would open on their own. Items would move around rooms. The hinge on one door kept coming loose. Things often happen within a show that are not contrived.

After a show on the “Queen Mary,” two ladies came up to me to share their favorite part. They said they really liked the guy who was dressed as a World War II sailor. That wasn’t part of our show, nor did any males have access to the area where they saw the sailor, except me. And I was on stage. The only people near there were my partner, Becca Knight, and a female bartender.   

Aiden Sinclair Performing Illusions of the Passed: Ghosts of Valentine’s at the Winchester Mystery House

WMH: What should people expect at the upcoming séances at Winchester Mystery House?

AS: We want people to feel closer to a place rather than feel fear. Here’s a woman who went through incredible loss that she never got over. There’s something to be said about the resonance of her grief. It’s not a spooky, scary place.  

Aiden will be unpacking his séance props at Winchester Mystery House on February 14th and 15th for “Illusions of the Passed: Ghosts of Valentines,” a theatrical séance.